Estimating Software That Counts

Estimating Software That Counts

Wolfe, Anne

Stop spending your nights grinding out hand-written proposals. Better bidding is just a click away.

Estimating can make or break a business. Aim too low, and you won’t make ends meet. Too high, and you’ll price yourself out of a job. Price it right, but take too long with the bid, and you’ll lose the job anyway.

The fact is, the days of pencil-and-paper “eye it and ballpark” estimating are disappearing. Increasingly, today’s contractors are turning to estimating software for this critical piece of their business.

Why? Estimating software often does more than the name implies; it can actually help streamline the entire paperwork side of a project.

But the biggest plus users report: the ability to put a proposal in a customer’s hands on site immediately after a take-off. That means closing more deals in less time.

Paul Lux is among the converted. Lux, of Lux Brothers Painting in Livermore, Calif., used to spend a week or more turning around a bid that was sometimes hand-written. Now, with PDCA’s PACER software, it’s just a matter of “plug and play” to produce professional-looking estimates on the spot.

“As a result,” Lux says, “I’m closing a lot more business.”

Features and functions

Many estimating software programs are available. Although special features and options abound, the basics are fairly similar.

Most estimating programs streamline on-site job estimates and re-use information gathered for bid proposals to generate contracts, work orders, budgets and reports.

Most come with pre-established templates that use pricing rates and line items for automatic job calculations. Users tweak these details and variables in the templates during initial program set-up. After that, an estimator generally needs only to enter room measurements and make a few on-screen selections to produce a bid.

Pre-programming proprietary and critical details means that a contractor/business owner can delegate estimating to others, increasing the number and speed of estimates and freeing up the contractor to focus on other matters.

“I wouldn’t hire other estimators without this program,” Lux says.

Finding the right fit

Choosing and using the right estimating software can be a daunting proposition. Among the many estimating systems available to paint contractors:

* One Step Estimating

* Painters Estimating Program (PEP)

* Goldenseal Estimating Software

* The Painter’s Office Estimating Module

* Quick Bid / On-Screen Take-Off

* PACER

The functions, pricing, hardware/software requirements and support for these products vary widely. Software selection requires finding program features that match your business needs. Price should never take priority over ease of use and functionality in any software selection.

Most products have Web sites that display features, detailed program explanations, and pricing information. Many sites also offer online demos, so potential users can see exactly how the programs work.

Here are some of the most popular programs – and what their customers say.

Goldenseal Estimating Software: ‘Complete customization’

Goldenseal Estimating Software handles general construction estimating and project management.

Though not just for painting contractors, the program’s painting starter file – designed primarily for residential and light commercial work – provides unit costs and dimensions for paint removal, paint preparation, interior painting and exterior painting by project.

Project templates can be created and re-used. The software produces either simple or detailed estimates based on line items that include labor and material costs, subcontractor costs, bids from subs and suppliers, supplier and sub work orders, tools, and project reminders.

A 2007 online review of construction estimating software programs ranked Goldenseal number 1 based on its power for the price.

“Goldenseal allows complete customization to match nearly any estimating style,” reviewers reported on www.TopTenReviews.com. But customization takes time, they noted: “Because of the multi-task nature of Goldenseal, you’ll need to enter lots of information to get set up.”

Goldenseal’s Web site lets you download the entire library of instruction manuals, and makes training and technical support easily accessible.

One Step Estimating: ‘I can go to a client and focus’

One Step Estimating handles interior and exterior paint jobs. The online demo walks you through an interior room estimate, showing how simple it is to do a take-off on site by entering measurements and making selections from drop-down boxes built into Microsoft Excel spreadsheet pages.

The program produces a summary page with pricing information and writes the necessary information to a customer proposal in Microsoft Word. Field work orders show materials and allotted times. An agreement and contract produced in Word can be signed on site by a customer via tablet PC, with a signed copy sent by email.

“I love that I can go to a client and focus on listening to what they need, interview them, just touch the tablet, do an estimate on site, then edit and print out a contract in my truck,” says Mark clayton of Harbor Painting in N.Y., one of the first users to install One Step Estimating a few years ago.

Clayton also uses an internal job-tracking tool to load his work orders into field budgets in QuickBooks software.

PACER Estimating: Reports and more

PACER Estimating, which PDCA introduced in January 2006, generates estimates from walkthroughs, blueprints or notes; produces proposals on site; calculates paint requirements; allows project photos; and tracks history and trends of estimates.

PACER also generates work crew reports, paint reports and customer reports. Work crew reports are available in Spanish and English; photos containing hand-written labels or details also can be incorporated. The checklist format allows crews to enter actual time vs. allocated time.

Paint reports show paint suppliers gallons required and actually purchased, plus costs. Customer reports show estimates and scope of work broken down by work area, with corresponding detail. The program also produces customized contracts and invoices.

Painters Estimating Program: Photos and field interface

Painters Estimating Program (PEP) handles interior and exterior paint jobs and is available in two packages: PEP XP Lite and PEP XP. (A PEP XP Field Estimator add-on program supports multiple estimators.)

PEP XP Lite allows an estimator to handle up to five customers at a time in a database. (An unlimited customer database is available with the full version of PEP XP.) PEP XP Lite comes preinstalled with 15 adjustable item rates for things to be painted.

PEP XP handles an unlimited number of items and rates, with the ability to track jobs and produce work orders, contracts and billing. PEP XP also allows uploading of color photos of the job site; it can even display the photos in proposals and work orders to illustrate areas being estimated.

When the full PEP XP is loaded on the main office computer, PEP XP Field Estimator allows one or more estimators to generate proposals remotely at work sites. Field estimators enter measurements on site, produce proposals, and sync up remote PCs to the main office computer before downloading the information needed to finalize contracts, work orders and other documents.

Jeff Minor, owner of Paint Force in Kentucky and North Carolina, uses PEP XP to produce detailed proposals that allow customers to “pick and choose what to do or not to do” on the job.

Painter’s Office Estimating Module: TPO adds on for 2008

The Painter’s Office Estimating Module, due out in early 2008, will be an add-on to the base Painter’s Office software program.

The add-on module will accept input from a tablet PC and create an estimate, while the base module generates a customized proposal/ bid form. Proposals can be created using text and/or pre-set line-items. The same data produces a work order/job form and invoice.

The estimating software provides materials lists, work orders, job costs, estimated-versus-actual costs, and other reports, and is currently being tested for release in early 2008.

Quick Bid / On-Screen Take-off: ‘Gets the job done’

Quick Bid software works with On-Screen Take-off for general construction estimating. (The programs, by On Center Software, are generally sold together, but they may be used independently.)

On-Screen Take-off allows contractors to produce drawings directly on a PC without plans. For estimators who prefer paper plans, On-Screen Takeoff can digitize paper plans.

Quick Bid imports take-off data to create bids and specify costs and labor rates, facilitate change orders, and track materials. The program comes with pre-loaded databases for various construction trades.

Matt Tison of Tison’s Painting and Decorating in Utah, does all his take-offs using On-Screen Take-off (he hasn’t yet used Quick Bid). “On-Screen Take-off gets the job done more effectively” than a manual take-off, Tison says.

Powering up

If you’re new to estimating software (or any software), getting started may feel overwhelming. The adds-ons and options can seem endless. Just stick to the basics at first.

Test-drive several demo programs, and choose the one that feels most intuitive, makes the most sense, and best fits your needs. If it’s right for you, it’s the right choice.

Technical writer Anne Wolfe has an M.S. in Educational Technology. Contact her at anne@annewolfe.com.

Copyright Finan Publishing Company, Inc. Nov/Dec 2007

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved